Aspen hospital board candidate must quit her job if she wins |

Aspen hospital board candidate must quit her job if she wins

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” One of the candidates for a seat on the local hospital board will have to quit one of her jobs if she is elected.

Deborah Hutchinson, who was born in Aspen, owns her own pet care business and is an on-call paramedic for Aspen Valley Hospital.

It is that second job she will lose if elected to fill one of the two open seats on the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors, and Hutchinson said this week she is comletely willing to do so.

“I’ve worked for hospitals for half my life,” she said, explaining that about 20 years ago she started as an Emergency Medical Technician at a hospital in Middlebury, Vermont, where she was attending college.

But, she added, “I think it’s really important that somebody who’s actually cleaned bedpans there, who knows how the employees feel, be on the board.” She said her pet care business, Aspen Pet Services, provides enough income for her to live on.

Two doctors also are running for the board, and neither of them would have to give up their medical practices if they win.

The hospital district, which roughly corresponds with the boundaries of Pitkin County with the exception of the Crystal and Fryingpan river valleys, will be holding a mail-in election this spring. Ballots are to be sent out to registered voters starting on April 11, and must be returned to the hospital district’s election clerk by May 6, election day.

It is against the rules for a hospital employee to serve on the board, because of potential conflicts of interest between employee desires and the policies adopted by the board, a hospital official confirmed this week.

Ginny Dyche, hospital spokeswoman, said employees cannot serve on the board that is involved in determining payroll, benefit packages and other personnel issues.

It is not, however, against hospital policy for doctors to serve on the board, because “doctors are not paid by the hospital,” Dyche said.

One of the incumbents, Dr. Barry Mink, has served one full term and is seeking a second, while another doctor who serves on the board, Greg Balko, is not seeking re-election.

But doctors, according to Dyche and the hospital district’s attorney, Elaine Gerson, are not technically employed by the hospital.

They are private business owners with “privileges to admit patients” for treatments, surgeries, tests or other procedures, and they bill patients directly for services. The hospital sends out its own bills for services, separate from the doctor’s bills.

Dyche said there has never been a time in her memory when more than two doctors have served on the board at one time, and more often than not it has been one doctor seated among non-medical community members.

There is no district policy that limits the number of doctors who can serve on the board at any one time, Dyche said. She was quoting Gerson, who at one time was a nurse at the hospital who had to quit her job when she was elected to the board. Gerson later resigned from the board to take the job as the district’s in-house attorney.

At least one of the candidates, Mark Rothman, said he believes doctors should not be allowed to dominate a hospital’s board of directors, because the interests of doctors are not always the same as the broader interests of a hospital as a whole.

“Generally,” he said, “physicians are trained in medical school to practice medicine, and not to be businessmen.” He said doctors who do have well-honed business instincts that can benefit a hospital “are fairly rare.”

But he said a doctor’s input to board discussions and issues is not only necessary, but helpful, in that it provides a direct link between the board and those who actually practice medicine.

Rothman served on the board of directors for Suburban Hospital, located in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., during the mid-1980s and into the 1990s.

Doctors Mink and Balko agreed that too many doctors on a hospital board could pose problems.

“There’s certainly pros and cons” to having a majority of doctors on a hospital board, Mink conceded, noting that the perception is that “there might be some kind of self-serving behavior.”

But on the AVH board, he maintained, the inclusion of doctors on the board has had “the opposite effect,” maintaining that the doctors have had the hospital’s interests in mind, and that “a doctor’s experience … can be very valuable” in promoting good working relations between the board and the hospital’s medical staff.

“I don’t think having two doctors on the board has made it incestuous or anything like that,” Balko agreed. He noted that doctors, along with a couple of attorneys and a venture capitalist, have been part of the board that brought AVH back from the brink of financial ruin a few years ago.

The hospital’s financial foundations had been threatened by a billing crisis and poor management stemming from the late 1990s. But in recent years, with new management and a new board of directors in charge, it has been operating in the black and rebuilding its financial reserves.